An alluring feature of Central Virginia and the local Blue Ridge Mountain area - a prominent reason I pursued attending grad school at Liberty - is the trail running community, trail running opportunities, and also the races with these people and on these trails. Saturday, I had the opportunity to run my first race in this area with the Terrapin Mtn. 50k. Since moving to VA in January, I’ve had the opportunity to meet the local trail running guru’s and be shown around the trails in the Washington and Jefferson Nationals Forest. After all this training in the mountains, on Beast Series courses and the Appalachian Trail, I was ready to get my first race underway.
|Dr. David Horton: an inspiration to many. Photo by Amanda Medlin|
Registration for Terrapin filled and before too long a few top names surfaced on the entry list - Jake Reed, course record holder and previous year’s winner received the #1 seed; veteran ultra-runner and personal inspiration Eric Grossman (last year’s runner-up) was seeded #2; Kalib Wilkinson, who won Holiday Lake the month before and holds a 2:19 marathon best, was seeded #3; I was at #4 and other local accomplished runners such as Jeremy Ramsey, Chris Reed, Sean Andrish, etc. were seeded in the top 10. I was excited for the added competition compared to previous years and much talk in the weeks leading up to the race revolved on who had the best chance for the win and how the race would unfold.
After a long Friday working registration I slid into my tent with the forecast calling for rain. I slept well, even with the rain pounding on the tent roof – I woke up and it was still raining as I made my way to the starting pavilion. I remember thinking how hectic everything seemed compared to the casual early morning long runs in the mountains the weeks before with only a few people. Soon enough though, the race energy seeped into me as I sorted my gels, tied my shoes and filled my bottles. It was go time…
I was shaking Kalib’s hand as the gong sounded signaling the start. With surprise, we all took off and soon enough everyone but the top 4 seeds drifted back. We entered the rocky climb up to Camping Gap aid station (4.2 miles). Jake led up the hill, with a gap, there was Kalib, another gap, me, another gap, Grossman. I looked down at my watch and we were sub-35… Jake was over a minute ahead of me already… I knew last year he went through this aid station at 39 minutes. We were flying…
|Looking at my watch going into Camping Gap at 4.2 miles. Photo from Eco-X|
Grossman joined me as we headed down the long gravel downhill to Hunting Creek. We both noted how we were surprised to be gaining on Jake and Kalib who were running together just up the road. We figured the speedsters would be killing this section… soon enough all four of us were together. Jake had to make a pit stop in the woods and we never saw him again. The three of us kept pushing and Grossman stopped at the small aid station 2.2 miles before the Goff Mtn. aid station (9.2 miles). Now, it was just Kalib and I clipping off quick downhill/flat miles leading to the only crew assessable station. We covered those 2.2 miles in 13 minutes… 5:55 pace.
Jonathan and Joni, who were really supportive coming from Ohio to visit for the weekend, were waiting with a full bottle. I tossed my shirt and empty bottle on the ground as Jon threw the bottle too me; I caught it without breaking stride and headed up another gravel road. With the quick exchange I had gapped Kalib by about 15-20 seconds and adrenaline flowed through my veins like fire. Whenever taking a definite lead in a race, it is always tempting to keep pushing to widen the gap with hopes of never seeing the competitor again. With it being so early though, I kept patient and Kalib caught up and led us into a slick singletrack trail that looped around to the gravel road that we had went down a few miles prior.
This uphill section to Camping Gap #2 (16.4 miles) was probably my best section of the day. I stayed super relaxed and seemed to be getting stronger as the hill continued to steepen. At some point I caught and passed Kalib on the climb and was in the lead again going into the aid station. While filling my bottle Kalib came in and got out before I could and was a few strides ahead of me as we began the White Oak Ridge Loop (WOR). If you are keeping track that is 5 lead changes between Kalib and myself… unfortunately for me it would be the last lead change as Kalib pulled away going up to the highest point on the course.
Going into Camping Gap for the 3rd time (22.1 miles) Dr. Horton told me I was 1:30-2:00 behind Kalib. It was nice receiving encouragement from the other runners I passed on the WOR loop (thanks Micah, Jared, and Kevin!). I still wanted to try to make it a race. I knew a lot could happen going up to Terrapin (the hardest single climb of the day) and I was confident in my uphill running strength. I walked the majority of the way up to Terrapin and I constantly peered up the foggy trail hoping to see Kalib. I punched my bib at the peak and meandered my way through Fat Mans Misery. Still no sign of Kalib...
|Exiting Camping Gap with cheeks full of GU Chomps in pursuit of Kalib before the Terrapin Climb. Photo from Eco-X|
A super technical section going down Terrapin called the “Rock Garden” was another challenge… footing was minimal at best and the quad crushing steepness was enough to question the reason for going up. I was surprised when I made it through this section feeling peppy and without falling. To get to the Terrapin Mtn. Lane aid station (25.6 miles) runners do a short out and back section before turning left onto a trail following the Forest boundary on the front of the mountain. In this out and back section I passed Kalib making his way back up to the trail… I was only 1:30 behind him and I noticed he wasn’t looking particularly good. Maybe I could go for him in the last 5.5 miles…
As soon as I turned around at the aid station I knew that would be a hard feat. The crushing downhill off Terrapin had my legs reeling. Even though the trail was somewhat flat on the side of the mountain, I had a hard time getting any rhythm and I imagined I was not making up any ground on Kalib. I was right. As I turned left off the trail and made my way to the finishing mile on the road there was no sign of Kalib and with a few minutes to go Dr. Horton told me Kalib had just finished. I ran in with a finishing time of 4:06:04, 7:14 behind Kalib who set a new course record. He must have run that last section fairly strong!
|Kalib winning. Photo by AM|
Camping Gap 1 (4.1) - 34:00
Hunting Creek (9.1) - 1:05:00
Camping Gap 2 (16.4) - 1:58:00
Camping Gap 3 (22.1) - 2:43:00
Terrapin Lane (25.6) - 3:19:00
Finish (31.1) - 4:06:04
|Photo by AM|
|Left to Right: Grossman, Reed, Wilkinson, myself. Photo from Eric Grossman's Facebook|
I couldn’t be more pleased with how this race went. Kalib ran a really strong race and I am glad to have met him and be competitive with him. It will be fun to race him more in the future. Clark Zealand runs a pretty tight ship with his races and it was fun getting to help with marking the course, registration, and then actually getting to run it! All the people were great and it’s always a pleasure hanging out after races talking with them. Trying to play mind games and talking trash with ‘old man’ Eric Grossman might be the most enjoyable part though. :) :)
Next race: Ice Age 50, May 12
|Photo by AM|
|Terrapin peaking through the clouds. Photo by AM|